Jury trials are hardly ever the end of the story. The recent Monsanto jury verdict is living proof. There has been a flurry of activity over the last week or so as the case develops and litigation continues.
If you’re just tuning in, a jury awarded DeWayne Johnson $289 million in damages in August. Johnson sued Monsanto claiming that he developed cancer after using the company’s Ranger Pro and Roundup for years as a school groundskeeper. He relied on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s controversial assessment that glyphosate, those herbicides’ active ingredient, is a probable carcinogen.
Not surprisingly, Monsanto announced it would appeal the verdict. Based on what? Monsanto says the jury was presented “junk science” during the trial. And emotional arguments by Johnson’s counsel — such as stating there would be champagne in the Monsanto boardroom after a favorable verdict — inflamed the jury. Those arguments are hard to make on appeal though, even if correct.
It seems like Johnson’s luck might be running out though. During a recent hearing, the trial judge revealed she’s leaning toward throwing out the punitive damages award. These “punishment” damages were the bulk of Johnson’s booty — $250 million. The jury slapped Monsanto with that amount because it found the company knew glyphosate caused cancer and hid it from the public.
I’ve always found that part of the verdict the most puzzling. How could Monsanto hide something if that something doesn’t exist? Glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer, as so many government and scientific bodies have concluded. Yet the jury was convinced Monsanto hid the fact that it did. The judge apparently agreed. Her inclination to strike the largest damages portion lies with the fact that Johnson didn’t meet his burden of proof.
She also wasn’t convinced by Johnson’s presentation of scientific data either. She found it wanting. That makes sense considering the overwhelming evidence that glyphosate isn’t a carcinogen and the questionable basis of IARC’s decision. So the judge asked the parties to brief whether she should order a new trial. Those arguments were due last week. As of publishing this article, no decision has been made.
This stumps me a little bit. By the time parties come to trial, everything is supposed to be out in the open. There are no surprise witnesses that swoop in at the end of trial with a smoking gun. There are no shocking documents unearthed minutes before closing arguments. Our trial rules are designed to avoid “trial by ambush.”
So the trial judge should’ve known what evidence the parties were going to present before they actually presented it to the jury. And because this was such a highly publicized case, I would’ve expected her to be prepared. I might be missing something, but it does seem a bit odd. Still, her analysis is right: Johnson’s scientific evidence was lacking.
Despite all of that though, the strangest part of this case has only just surfaced.
Eight jury members are petitioning the judge to not throw out the punitive damages or order a new trial. They insist that they fairly and completely assessed the evidence presented to them. One juror even insisted that if the judge did toss the verdict, his entire faith in the American judicial system would be ruined.
Jurors are certainly allowed to speak to the public after completing their service. And they can share insights into how they perceived the evidence and reached a conclusion. But since when do jurors get to participate in litigating the case?
Jurors are only allowed to see admissible evidence at trial, and they don’t participate in all the other stuff. So a juror can do a really good job, and the verdict can still be wrong. The notion of jurors petitioning a judge is absurd. Though it’s worth mentioning that activist organizations, including Moms Across America, immediately stood up to support these jurors.
To wrap it up: the Monsanto jury verdict is far, far from over. There is a lot more to come, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the most shocking bits yet.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.